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Hidden Springs State Forest  

Possum Hollow Nature Trail


Welcome to Possum Hollow Self-guiding Nature Trail. The main portion of this trail, covers 3/4 miles of moderate terrain and can be comfortably enjoyed in an hour’s time. Visits to the seed orchard, day-use area, Park Pond, or the campground will require more time and include one hill each.

This pamphlet will help guide you along the trail and will explain features which are marked by numbered posts.

We respectfully ask that all plants, trees and animals remain undisturbed. It is most important that you not litter and we appreciate very much your help in this respect.

Note carefully the sights, sounds, and smells of the forest community. We hope they enrich your life in some way.

POST 1: This small redbud (Cercis canadensis) rarely attains a height over 50 feet. It thrives beneath the "crowns" of larger trees, it is considered "shade tolerant". The leaves are heart-shaped, the flowers purplish red and the bark red-brown. Redbud is prized highly as an ornamental.

POST 2: The shag-bark hickory (Carya ovata) is well known for its sweet and delicious nuts fed upon by small animals. It is a large commercial tree which thrives best on rich, damp soil. Its name suggests its shaggy appearance. The bark of the trunk is rougher than other hickories, light gray, and separating into thick plates, which are only slightly attached to the tree. Notice the abundance of shag-bark hickories on this hillside.

POST 3: The white ash (Fraxinum americana) grows best in the rich, moist soils of bottomlands. The bark is characterized by having rather narrow ridges separated with marked regularity by deep, diamond-shaped "fissures". The wood of this tree is very tough and is used in the making of some athletic equipment such as baseball bats. The fruit of the ash is winged resembling the blade of a canoe paddle. The leaves and twigs sometimes yield a milky substance.

POST 4: The large trees with light gray bark are white oaks (Quercus alba). Notice that the white oaks are found on "upland" soils rather than "bottomland" along the creek. White oak is the State tree of Illinois and rightly so, as the heavy, hard, durable wood serves many useful purposes including flooring, furniture, cabinets, and interior finishing. The leaf of the white oak is divided into 5 to 9 rounded lobes. Its acorns are relished by many forest inhabitants.

POST 5: Most oaks (Quercus) can be classified as a "white oak" or "black oak". The white oak have round lobed leaves, pale bark, and mature their acorns in one year. Black oaks have sharp-lobed leaves, dark bark, and require two years to mature their acorns. Oaks are mast (food) producers. This food, called acorns, is an important part of the diets of squirrels, quail, deer, and raccoons.

POST 6: To your left you can see Possum Creek as it makes its way through the woods. Notice how the creek winds back and forth. Where do you think the fastest rate of flow is? It is on the outside of each bend of the creek. Whenever a bend in the creek occurs, the water to the inside of the bend flows slower allowing materials suspended in it to settle out (deposition), while erosion or cutting is taking place on the outside of each bend. Slowly and continuously the course of the creek changes. Notice how the roots of the trees along the creek hold fast to the soil of the bank.

POST 7: The land all around the creek is its "watershed". The watershed serves or provides water for the creek. It is protected by trees and vegetation which hold the soil in place. The carpet of leaves and twigs is natures litter or mulch. Brush the top layer of leaves away. The moist, decayed material beneath is humus, natures’ fertilizer. Leaf litter and humus slow down rainfall "runoff" which helps prevent erosion. They also act as a sponge which slowly releases water into Possum Creek. Forest fires destroy this important protective cover and cause erosion and eventual flooding.

POST 8: The holes in this bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) were caused by a member of the woodpecker family named the sapsucker. The sapsucker feeds on the soft inner bark and on the sap of trees on farms and in wood lots. Sapsuckers dig row after row of small holes, sometimes girdling the tree. The bur oak is a member of the white oak family. Bur oak acorns, having large, fringed nuts which are easily identified, are highly regarded by wildlife.

POST 9: The post oak (Quercus stellata), of the white oak family, has a typically rounded crown. The bark is rougher and darker than the white oak and broken into smaller scales. The wood is very heavy and hard and is used for crossties and as its’ name implies, for fence posts.

POST 10: The active gulley to the left of the trail has been created by water "running off" of the campground at the top of the hill. This erosion problem can be improved by slowing down or diverting the water flow. The presence of vegetation is natures way of "stabilizing" this condition.

POST 11: The large dead sycamore below you is a den tree. Hollow trees such as this one provide homes for raccoons, opossums, and squirrels. This tree, and the large sycamore down the trail on the left, provide protection from predators and weather, as well as a place to raise young.

POST 12: The shingle oak (Quercus imbricaria) has oblong leaves differing in shape from most other native oaks. The bark is rather thin and divided by shallow fissures into broad ridges of dark brown. Wood, split from this black oak family member, is used widely for shingles.

POST 13: Forest grown black cherry trees (Prunus serotina) have long, clear trunks with little taper; open grown trees have spreading crowns. The wood, which is valuable for its luster and color, is used in furniture making. On older trees the bark is rough and broken into irregular "plates". With the exception of black walnut, this lumber has a greater unit value than any other hardwood of the eastern United States.

POST 14: The black oak (Quercus velutina) has a clear trunk for 20 feet or more on a large tree. The bark on the very young trees is smooth and dark brown but soon becomes thick and black, with deep furrows and rough, broken ridges. The wood is hard, strong, and used for furniture. Can you find other black oaks in this area?

POST 15: These stumps are evidence of mans’ influence on the forest. The removal of these trees "released" the smaller trees around them. This lessened the competition for sunlight, moisture, and nutrients from the soil.

POST 16: Notice how this dying sugar maple (Acer saccharum) or hard maple dominates the space it occupies. The area under the branches of this tree does not receive enough sunlight to support trees larger than the saplings. This senior citizen of the forest is also a den or coon tree. Ahead are more sugar maples, which thrive on moist, lower slopes. The sap from these trees yields maple sugar. The hard, close-grained, durable wood is used to manufacture flooring, furniture, shoe-lasts, and bowling pins.

POST 17: Can you see where a yellow-shafted flicker makes his home in this hard maple, once occupied by a gray squirrel? The squirrel kept the hole from healing shut by nibbling at the layer of wood (cambium) beneath the bark. The trail leads you up to the hill to the campground.

POST 18: This trail will lead you to the day-use area. The large tree ahead of you as you cross the bridge is a cottonwood (Populous deltoides) characteristic of flood plains along streams. They are among the largest trees in Illinois. The area through which the trail leads you is a wildlife food plot. Plots like it are scattered throughout the forest. Food in the plot includes German millet, sorghum, soybeans, and sunflowers which provide food and cover for pheasant, quail, and songbirds. In January and February, when natural food supplies have been exhausted, the plot provides a welcome source of food and cover. Around this bottom area is the "edge" of the forest. This edge is preferred by all types of wildlife as it is close to cover and food.

POST 19: This sycamore’s (Platanus occidentalis) "habitat" is that of bottomlands, along creeks and river. Its bark is easily distinguished by flat scales which fall away exposing the white or greenish inner bark.

POST 20: Notice how this white oak dominated this area. Its large, spreading crown allows only a small amount of sunlight to reach the forest floor. How does this affect vegetation beneath this "wolf" tree?

POST 21: The erosion in the gulley to your left is slowly undermining the leaning hackberry. As you look at the hills and ravines to your right you can see that this gulley serves a large "watershed".

POST 22: The trail to your right leads up the hill to a fire lane which leads to Park Pond (1/4 mile). A description of pond life is available in the box on Post 22.

POST 23: The red elm (Ulmus rubra) or slippery elm is found principally on the banks of streams and on low hillsides in rich soil. It is a tree of small to moderate size, but noticeably wide spreading. The inner bark of red elm twigs was chewed for relief of throat ailments.

POST 24: The honey locust (Glenditsia triacanthos) grows under a wide variety of soil and moisture conditions. Its compound leaf has more leaflets than any other tree in Illinois. The strong thorns are sufficient to identify it. The flowers are rich in honey. The fruit has a long, twisted, dark-brown pod that contains a yellow sweetish pulp and seeds which are sometimes fed to cattle.

POST 25: Many American elms (Ulmus americana), like this one, are dying. They are victims of the Dutch Elm disease, a fungus with no known cure.

POST 26: Rotten logs fungi, and leaf litter are all important in the making and enriching of soil in the continuous recycling process. Along with the fungi, insects such as ants, termites, and beetles help to decompose the rotten wood and return it to the soil. The woodpecker is also involved in the decomposing process of the log and, hence, helps to break up the log this way. The fungi, insects and other animals act as natures’ decomposers. This allows for nothing to be wasted in the natural forest environment.

POST 27: Notice the old creek bed. Why did the creek change its course?

POST 28: This hazelnut bush (Corylus americana) produces edible nuts called filberts. They are a favorite of squirrels, deer, quail, pheasant, and humans.

POST 29: The bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis) is a tall, slender tree with a broadly shaped pyramidal crown. It is found along stream banks and on moist soils. It is well known by its roundish bitter nuts. The wood from this tree is prized as fuel for outdoor cooking and smoking of meats. Notice how this tree has been thoughtlessly abused. Nature is beginning her slow healing process in an effort to ward off insects and disease.

POST 30: The rough leafed hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) occurs most abundantly and of greatest size in the rich alluvial or bottomlands. The bark of the hackberry sports "warts" which become rough and scaly on older trees. The wood of this tree is soft and weak, used primarily for fence posts and fuel. It makes an excellent shade tree.

POST 31: The black walnut (Juglans nigra) is the most valuable tree found in Illinois forests. What can you see was done many years ago to make the wood of this tree considerably less valuable?

POST 32: What kind of tree is this? It is distinguished by its dark, deeply furrowed bark. It occurs in rich bottomlands and on moist hillsides. The nuts produced are delicacies for squirrels and man alike. This tree is highly valued for it durable, dark-brown wood which is used in furniture, cabinet building, and gunstocks.

POST 33: The seed orchard lies at the top of this hill. The trees in this pine plantation were planted for cone production but also provide good wildlife cover. The taller trees in the 6 right-hand rows are southern white pine, grown for height, diameter and straightness. The long, thin cones of this pine are collected in August before they open and allow the small seed to fall out. The needles of this white pine are in groups or "bundles" of five. The shorter, darker trees on the left are scotch pine. Color and shape are more important here as the seeds from these trees will produce potential Christmas trees. These cones are collected from November through January. Cones are shipped to the state nursery where seeds are removed, planted, and cultivated into small trees or seedlings which are distributed throughout the state. Undesirable trees cut out of the orchard are "chipped" into small pieces which are put on trails.

POST 34: Notice the difference in the types of trees on the upland to your right compared to those as you pass through the bottom land to the left.

POST 35: The forest headquarters lies at the top of the hill to your right. Additional information concerning the importance of Illinois forests is available here. Visit Hidden Springs State Forest often!


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